Category Archives: Skill Challenge

Infiltrating Zinnaatis’ Outpost

This encounter is intended for three players of 2nd level and uses the August D&D Next Playtest Rules

One of the difficulties of living in a subterranean hell-hole like the Underdark, is that you cannot make/grow all the things you desire to use in your various plans and plots. Thus, trade with the surface world is inevitable. For the Drow and other Underdark dwellers, this means dealing with the disreputable and cruel elements that lurk topside. To facilitate this, trade posts are often established within a few miles of an access point to the surface. Though not truly in the Underdark due to their proximity to more typical caves and caverns, these establishments are just as dangerous, and likely to be full of sinister humanoids (if you’re lucky!) from both above and below, each just as suspicious and contemptuous of the others.

This week’s encounter will take the PCs into one such outpost in search of a McGuffin (The ecounter will presume this is the stolen journal of a long dead wizard, but you can substitute and item appropriate for your campaign). The encounter is meant for a smaller group of PCs, and hinges on their use of stealth, deception, bribery, and diversion. If the whole camp is alerted, the PCs won’t stand a chance in open combat. But by being careful and clever, they can get in and out without ever being noticed.


A recent contact of the PCs with a magical background is piecing together the research of a long dead wizard in order to make sense of the old mage’s spell book. In trying to dig up his belongings, the contact found that most of them were stolen not long ago in a raid on a trade caravan. Some sleuthing anda little  divination   lead him to locate the dead wizard’s journal – a half mile below the surface in a Drow traders den called Zinnaatis’ Outpost. The book’s exact whereabouts weren’t precisely discovered, so the contact will need the PCs to investigate the outpost, and sneak out with the book.

Each area on the map has some activity going on that might help or hinder the PCs efforts to search for the book. The events and relevant stats are noted below. All creatures referenced are from the Bestiary document unless otherwise noted.

Zinnaatis’ Outpost

     Established by an overly ambitious Drow soldier, this forward camp is close to the surface world; making it an ideal trading post, and an even better place for spies to nest. It’s been around for a good ten years now, and its success is based largely on Zinnaatis hands-off approach to management. A wise businesswoman, if not a loyal soldier, she made sure that traders had privacy, a few creature comforts, and a heaping helping of her own religious zealotry.

     Guard duty is covered by various mercenaries hired from among the surface traders by Zinnaatis. She permits her various trade contacts to come and go as they please, so long as they pay the entry toll and shoulder the brunt of her unusually high taxes (much of which find their way into her personal coffers). Among them are hobgoblins, kobolds, orcs, and even some unsavory human bandits. 

I Prefer A Straight Fight to all this Sneaking Around…

     Ostensibly the PCs would not be welcome in a place like Zinnaatis’ Outpost. Thus they must take measures to conceal their identities and intentions. Anything from disguises, to a good cover story (slaves are traded through here regularly, and some treacherous humans, half-orcs, and half-elves serve as mercenaries down here, and are thus not unheard of) to some good old fashioned stealth would suffice. Make the players work for it through roleplaying and careful planning. A solid cover story or disguise should stand on its own, calling for rolls only if the PC’s behavior becomes suspicious.

     However, if the party insists on picking a fight, even the fractious creatures of the outpost know they have many common enemies on the surface – with the most likely foe being adventurers! Any monsters in the area who witness the PCs behaving suspiciously will most likely turn on them – and some will probably even slink off to the others sections of the cavern for reinforcements! Remind the PCs that this is a dangerous mission, and that discretion is the better part of valor.

A Blade in the Dark

     These kinds of infiltration narratives when presented in films like (any) James Bond, literature, or video games like Metal Gear Solid and Assassin’s Creed, feature protagonists getting the drop on their foes and dispatching them quickly and quietly. The D&D Next rules don’t provide any specific insight on this sort of situation (it doesn’t exactly fit the circumstances of a coup de grace), as the “one-shot kill/incapacitation” tends to be a rare situation and a cause for easy abuse of the rules. At the same time, this encounter presents circumstances where it would be perfectly logical for a PC to drop a foe with a single roll – and that’s likely how your players will be thinking! While game balance is always important, maintaining verisimilitude keeps players happy and makes your world consistent – and sometimes that requires a bit of fudging int he rules. Since not everyone is a rogue and benefits from sneak attack, here are a few suggested rules “hacks” when dealing with this very specific situation:

   •A foe that is caught completely unaware might be considered eligible for a “coup de grace.”

   •Otherwise you might allow such an attack to deal 2 or 3 weapon damage dice (giving the foe an unlikely chance to survive, while not ignoring the fact that rogues should be better at this kind of work than any other class.

   •Snapping the neck of a sentry could be represented as a simple STR vs. Opponents CON score as DC roll. This would require the assailant make a DEX roll to sneak up on his/her target first (thus ensuring that rogues remain superior at wetwork to other classes).

These sorts of ambushes rarely require the PCs to roll initiative(unless their victim spots them first, or survives the attack). After stealthily eliminating a foe, there is always the problem of what to do with the body, of course…



A full poster version of this map is included in Vaults of the Underdark. All sections of rubble and furniture count as difficult terrain.

It’s Never That Simple

     If your PCs were successfully subtle, consider having one of the patrols follow them as they attempt to reach the surface, and attack them en route. This will discourage them from lingering, and given any players feeling dejected by a lack of combat a chance to wet their blade.

Patrols – These patrols wander around and outside the outpost, looking for suspicious activity and on hand to quell any hostilities flaring up from a deal gone awry. Each patrol’s path is dictated on the map, and it will take them about 5 minutes to complete a circuit (they are searching the area, chatting with visitors, and taking their time). 

     Unlike some of the other occupants of the outpost, the patrols will know right away that the PCs do not fit in, and will accost them, attacking quickly if the PCs don’t have cover stories or disguises that hold up. If they see the PCs approaching or leaving the outpost (essentially in areas “off the map”) they will charge after them without questioning.

     Features of the Area – Patrol 1 (P1 on Map) – x1 Drow (pg. 39), and on a leash, x1 Guard Spider(As “Spider, Giant) but 10 HP and medium size); Patrol 2 (P2 on Map) – x2 Hobgoblins (pg. 55), x1 Hobgoblin leader (pg. 55) 

1. Statue of Lolth – This sixteen foot tall effigy occupies the high-ceilinged middle chamber of the outpost. Zinnaatis is an especially pious drow, and sings her Demon-Web Godess’ praises to all of her trade partners. Right now, however, a crowd is gathered round the statue. A tall human clad in black robes and wearing a skull-like mask is screaming an angry sermon from the base of the massive artifact. 

     He asserts that his God (pick whichever evil deity you deem appropriate) is far superior to he lowly bug-witch of the drow. The statue has angered him, and threatens that his cultists will refuse to trade with the outpost if they are not given equal religious representation. For all his unscrupulousness, the priest knows his audience, and is managing to work the crowd into an uproar. Many of the creatures in this are are packed together to listen, two or three at a time occupying the same five foot space.

     It would not be difficult to begin a riot in this crowd which might provide convenient cover to the PC’s actions. However, getting caught in the rioting is its own danger. Moving through a rioting crowd can be accomplished with a STR DC 10 check at Half Speed. For every round stuck in the crowd, a PC must make a CON DC 10 save. Failure results in 1d6 bludgeoning damage and the PC is knocked prone, save for half damage.

     Features of the Area – Creatures here have Disadvantage on WIS checks due to their distraction with the oration. This chamber is brightly lit by torches.

     Creatures – x1 Skull-Masked Priest (Dark Adept pg. 11) and his x4 Dark Adepts (pg. 10), x10 Kobolds (pg. 59), x12 Goblins, x3 Orcs, x4 Hobgoblins, x2 Drow

2. Trading Floors – These rooms are crammed with merchants and shoppers. Those trading offer all kinds of mundane wares at or below book price (since they are primarily stolen). Magical items are traded in the “library.” It is not entirely unusual for violence to break out on the trade floors and is acceptable so long as it is brief and contained. The traders are from al walks of the Underdark and the surface, and they all keep a close eye out for thieves. Guards patrol the cramped crowds, but have Disadvantage on WIS checks to notice any foul dealings due to the size of the crowd (this is not true for merchants keeping an eye on their goods). The punishment for stealing here is the summary removal of both hands. If asked about a book, anyone here will recommend checking with the magical item vendors in the library.

     Features of the Area – Creatures here have Disadvantage on WIS checks due to their distraction with the bustle. This chamber is brightly lit by torches.

     Creatures – The guards consist of x2 Hobgoblins, x3 Goblins

3. Latrines – This room is perforated by holes in the ground full of stinking biological waste. It is the unfortunate duty for some kobold or goblin to clean the pits as punishment once a day. There is little for PCs to find here save disease. If they are using a light source, grant them a WIS DC 10 check with Disadvantage to Spot. A succeeding PC notices a glint coming out of one of the pits. One of the hobgoblins concealed a gem worth 100 gp that he pinched from the latest cache of loot. Good luck retrieving it.

     Features of the Area – This room is unlit.

4. Sealed Storage – Inside this chamber are all of the large and expensive trade items that merchants would prefer a little extra security for (at a cost, of course). The door to this room is made of heavy steel, and shut with a lock (DC 15 to pick). There are always two sentries on the landing outside (choose from the creature near the Statue of Lolth above). Within the room are four well armed and disciplined hobgoblins. They imedietly question anyone entering the chamber and are very suspicious of anyone not accompanied by one of the Drow (Disadvantage on checks to Bluff or Intimidate).

     Most of the supplies are piled up in crates and boxes in the center of the room, leaving only 5 feet ofclearance  along each edge. Hobbling over the supplies counts as difficult terrain.

     Features of the Area – Dimly lit by a single lantern hanging above the door. The heavy door and noise outside mean that it is very difficult to hear anything in this room past the stoop outside. sentries who might hear yelling or the din of battle make their WIS checks with Disadvantage. At the back of the room are armor stands with 5 medium and 1 small (a gift for a particularly loyal goblin!) suit of Drow Chainmail. In addition there are various traders crated here (DM discretion). The warehouse floor is always attended by a goblin known as “His Majesty the Count” who does Zinnaatis’ counting and sums – he is easily recognized for his smudged apron and tiny leather visor, as well as the oversized ledger book he constantly lugs around.

Drow Chainmail – AC 16 (Otherwise as “Mithril Chain”)
These shirts of extremelly light, shimmery black mail are prized by the vicious dark elves. Drow Chain is infused with the magical contamination Of the Underdark and as such, cannot survive long outside such environs. It breaks down into a black dust after exposure to sunlight in 2d6 days.

     Creatures – x5 Hobgoblins, x1 goblin

5. The “Orb and Weaver” Tavern – Cramped, hot, and reeking of cheap grog and sweat, the sign of the Orb and Weaver refreshes the surly raiders and bodyguards that service the Underdark merchants. Hanging above the bars entrance and well lit by phosphorescent lichen is a wooden sign, painted in purple and featuring the image of a spider hanging over a loom, its abdomen appearing to be a crystal ball. The echoing of the chamber means that even on a sparse night the bar is booming with a cacophony of voices. 

     The bartender, Luhrg the Mugbreaker (Use the “Oorog” stat block) has been working this tavern for a year now and is a surprisingly quick study for an orc – he stays friendly with everyone and is happy to sell rumors and information for a price (typically between 5-15 gp). Luhrg hears about everything eventually, and knows every face that passes through; meaning that he knows where to find whatever you want. It also means he’ll be extremely nosey about the PCs presence, battering them with friendly questions in order to loose the details from them. If the PCs play along and their cover story holds up, Luhrg will be amiable and helpful. Close lipped PCs will find themselves being overcharged, ahrassed by the customers, and eventually tossed out.

     The PCs will needs be on their best behavior here. The patrons are all drunk and spoiling for a fight. So long as no weapons are drawn, it would be acceptable for a barroom scuffle to occur, though that will likely mean the end of the PCs stay for causing trouble. A fistfight with one table of ruffians might cause the whole bar to erupt in flying fists, or only attract the cheers of other tables (at the DM’s discretion). Given the cruelty and grudging nature of the inhabitants, a bar fight would likely mean the patrons attacking one another just as soon as the PCs! To keep the peace, Luhrg has hired on a Drow waitress who is fully armed beneath her revealing bustier (use the Drow stats with AC 12).

     Luhrg serves he normal fare for a low quality tavern, grog, moonshine, watered down ale, as well as more exclusive local drinks with vile names like “Mushroom Musk” and “Umberhulk Sweat.” The tavern’s most expensive drink, the “Mindflayer Mucous Shot” has an unusual effect on those that can resist it. Any PC who downs the shot makes a CON DC 12 Save. They instantly fall unconscious for 2d10 minutes on a failed save. A successful save grants Advantage on any lore roll for the next 1d4 days.

    Features of the Area – Well lit by candles, lanterns, and lambent lichens. Moving anywhere in the cramped bar requires double movement.

     Creatures – x1 Orog (pg. 71), x1 Drow, x1 Orc, x3 Goblins, x2 Hobgoblins, x2 Gnolls, x4 kobolds (at the bar, on booster seats)

6. The Library – Not dissimilar to the trading floors, this oddly cozy nook houses several bookshelves as well as magical oddities strewn about on carpets. There is a sales counter in this room, attended by a rather grubby looking human hedge-wizard who eyes everyone entering as though they are a potential meal. He grumbles to himself at odd intervals. At the moment, most of the sellers are not on hand, just a fewgoblin assistants   attending to their master’s wares. 

     The book the PCs seek is sitting plainly upon the largest shelf, and the attending wizard will explain that it is worth 550 gp or the equivalent in barter. 

     The open space outside the Library consists of a crowd of gathered villains. They talk and mill quietly amongst themselves, trading gossip and making impromptu deals. The crowd can easily be used as cover for sneaking PCs, or a source of information.

     Blocking the northward entrance into the gallery where the Statue of Lolth looms is a blockade consisting of gnoll ruffians. They will not allow the PCs to pass by, snarling something about the magical sundries beyond are only for privileged shoppers approved of by Zinnaatis herself (albeit much less eloquently). Though the sentries are very adamant, a CHA DC 20 check to intimidate might convince them to let a PC by (any demonstration of magic prior to this grants the roll advantage). What they don’t realize is that any such sentries guarding the rear entrance are incapacitated.

     At the intersection The alley west of the Library are a pile of drunk goblins. Though mostly unaware of their surroundings, the leader is an angry drunk, and will get belligerent and combative if the PCs are too loud or try to talk to him. The PCs might be able to get away with fighting these goblins (the crowd nearby has little concern for the wretched creatures) though efforts would needs be taken to make it appear as one of the expected brawls that occasionally crop up in the outpost.

     Features of the Area – This chamber is brightly lit by torches.

     Creatures – x1 Human Witch Doctor (pg. 58), x1 Drow, x2 Goblins; The blockade in the alley consists of – x3 Gnolls (pg. 48); The crowd outside the Library is made up of – x1 Green Hag (pg. 53), x2 Drow, x2 Doppelgangers (pg. 32), x3 Dark Adepts, x1 Cultist of Asmodeus (pg. 9); In the west alley – x3 Goblins, x1 Goblin Leader (pg. 49)

7. Zinnaatis’ Mansion – Calling this underground holdfast a “mansion” is generous. It is little more than a barracks. The first floor contains kitchen, storage, bunks, armory, and a few offices. The second floor is reserved as Zinnaatis’ private apartments. From here the Drow officer tends to the business matters of the trading post, keeping her collected taxes (and bribes) locked in a magical safe containing a “Bag of Holding” within which is her horde. The mansion is not included in the scope of this adventure. The divinations used to scry out the McGuffin mark it being in the trade floor, not within the walls of this complex. However, players being players, you may wish to pull out some appropriate map in case they decide to investigate. Stats for Zinnaatis are given below, though a scrape with her would be a suicidal fight for a small number of PCs at this level.


     The D&D Next Playtest gives relatively good guidelines for rewarding players for non-combat situations. Given that this encounter involved a great deal of guile and problem solving, it would be a shame to overlook experience rewards merely because the PCs avoided open confrontation. That said, their accomplishments would not equate tot he same value as all the monsters who appear in this encounter, many of whom serve as intimidating set dressing and a reminder that the PCs are in over their heads and vastly outnumbered. 

     As a general rule, for every chamber the PCs successfully navigate without starting a fight, grant them 100 EXP (grant combat experience as normal). If their plan is especially clever, dramatic, amusing, or effective, feel free to throw another 50 EXP in as a bonus. Completing the entire encounter successfully is worth an additional 100 EXP. 


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The Heist


One last job – nab the Maltese Owlbear at all costs. It was a simple plan – what could go wrong?

Hands down, the best Skill Challenge I ever ran was a heist. It was also completely impromptu – while preparing to move the adventure along to our planned portion for the evening, one of the players simply said “Before we ship out, I need to pay my old rival back. We’re going to rob his brothel.” There was a moment of silence. I took my twenty minutes to prepare the skill challenge, they took theirs to plan the job.

It’s a great scenario for any RPG game: The team of specialists coming together to separate and use their individual skills to overcome obstacles, then working together to eliminate the unforeseen dangers.

What follows is not a specific heist, but the guidelines on how to run a freeform caper scenario using the Skill Challenge as the core backbone of the action.

Whether you are knocking over the safe in a backwater town’s brothel or infiltrating the Inter-dimensional Bank of Sigil, a heist should be meaningful and complicated, with plenty of risk and opportunity for the whole party to stretch their specialized skills. I’d recommend a minimum of Complexity 3

It All Starts With a Simple Plan
Behind the DM screen, keep a numbered list of the total successes needed to complete the skill challenge. Leave a line next to each digit to be filled in momentarily.

A strong benefit to using a heist in your game is that they always begin with a planning and prep phase. This allows the players to participate alongside you in building the Skill Challenge itself – and lets them do some of the heavy lifting! Begin the scene by introducing the idea of the heist, but don’t specify a skill challenge. As each PC adopts a role in the heist and adds steps to the plan, mark down those steps on your numbered list. The players might do your work for you, creating exactly the same number of “steps” as there are requisite successes in the challenge. If they don’t, start pointing out complications to the players – only things their characters might legitimately notice or recent changes in the lay of the land – What if the safe is trapped, too? … You notice a guard with a crossbow walking the roofs … The Countess will be wearing a mask just like all the other guests, (etc.)

No Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy
In a heist, primary skills represent the PCs actions to further the goal of nabbing their quarry. In the normal skill challenge, the only risk for failing a roll with a Primary skill is that the party is one failure closer to losing the skill challenge. During a heist challenge, this also generates a Complication.

The Complication must be resolved (usually by the character that failed the roll though not necessarily) before that character can attempt any further rolls towards completing the skill challenge. Failed attempts to remove the complication also count against the skill challenge, but will rarely count toward it. Because heists are long, difficult, and dangerous skill challenges – it might behoove a DM to use one or two of the Complications (depending on their circumstances) to also remove a failure from the challenge. For example: Dispatching a sentinel who caught the PC using Stealth might remove that failure (the witness is gone) but successfully hiding to avoid a patrol after setting off an alarm doesn’t halt the alarm and thus shouldn’t cause a failure to vanish.

Use Complications as a tool to mechanically reward/hamper the PCs actions in the story. They ramp up the tension, pad the challenge into becoming a longer and more meaningful encounter, and ask the players to stretch their character’s creative muscles. Specialists who botch a die roll may need to improvise, rely on often ignored skills, or use teamwork to overcome an unexpected interruption.

Below is a chart of some suggested Complications and likely skills used to respond to them. It is by no means exhaustive and as always good roleplaying and clever but logical thinking should always win out over the base rules. Use this chart as a guideline to improvise the use of other skills in these challenges as well (Arcana might work in place of Thievery to disarm a magical rune trap, perhaps Religion stands in for Bluff to deal with a nosey cult inquisitor):

*Combat – Erupting into a full mat-and-minis combat would definitely bog down and steal the thunder from a heist (if an extensive combat is involved in the heist, it should probably be an expected scene that occurs anyway). If the player opts to use feat of arms to get out of a scrape simply have them make an attack roll, and make attack rolls for the sentries opposing them (ideally an appropriate minion of the player’s level +/- 1). If the attack roll hits, the PC dispatches all foes involved single-handedly, but incurs damage from any of the attacks rolled against him/her. If the players opts to use a Daily or Encounter power, forgo this roll as they have paid for the error with a resource.

Players may have more detailed wishes for this scrape, and that’s fine. Do whatever you can to keep the fracas in a “theater of the mind” kind of resolution system to speed things along. Depending on the situation, they might need to make a further Complication roll to get rid of the bodies (Stealth or Athletics being the recommended skills).

Obviously, attacking nosey servants or bumbling guests poses little threat, but the problem of removing the body (as well as the moral ramifications of harming and innocent passerby) should serve as the appropriate challenge. And if the witness escapes the attack, the PC might be in even deeper water.

Secondary Skills and Complications
What constitutes a primary skill is very open for debate in a heist. Perception could be used in a leading role to discern which casino guest is carrying the mcguffin, or it could be used in a support role to be on lookout duty for another PC using Stealth to sneak into the governor’s private rooms. Only Primary skills are subject to Complications if they fail. However, you might rule that an appropriately applied secondary skill (such as Perception in the above example) permits a PC to ignore the effects of a Complication, ignore a failure, or both. If a player is not using a primary skill to push the challenge along but is helping in other ways, don’t be afraid to make their contribution meaningful – negating failures is a great way to do this.

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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Playtested, Skill Challenge


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Incidents – Archery Competition


Some prizes are more valuable than others…

This encounter is intended for any number of characters of any level

As I mentioned, the tourney both in historical and fictional context is about more than just the jousting. There were plenty of other feats of arms, and they also make an appearance in common fantasy/medieval(ish) fiction. Like the grand melee that solidifies fan favorite Brienne of Tarth in “A Clash of Kings.” Or that famous archery competition from Robin Hood lore (your choice of anthropomorphic fox, swashbuckling black-and-white film star, or Russell Crowe). Or that famous pie-eating contest from a few posts back.

The tricky bit about representing a competition at the table is that it inevitably comes down to a lot of die rolls, and a dog-show style display of stat bonus superiority. Not every player at the table is excited by that prospect – though I’m certain you have at least one who is. The trick is to ground it in the characters, and to give the players options to tweak and adjust the circumstances of the competition to keep it interesting.

Don’t forget about the other competitors either! While it is likely that multiple PCs will be competing in the contest against one another (at least ostensibly, even if they ultimately share the reward) there are also NPC archers. As with the Pie-Eating contest, be reasonable when setting up the competition. In general, writing up three major competitors, each with an advantage and an exploit, creates an interesting role-playing possibility, and side-steps the problem of creating a boring “my attack bonus vs. your attack bonus” roll-off. But more on that later.

Knock, Draw, Aim, Fire!
There are three “rounds” in the competition, each a different distance from the target. Bear in mind the range increment penalties for the character’s weapon of choice (some enchanted weapons and feats may have an advantage in this competition. If the distances listed are just shy of granting a player a boon for having an increased range ability; adjust the distance so that the advantage matters in this challenge. After all, the point of having all those cool items and feats is so that they can come in handy!)

During each round, participating PCs make ranged basic attacks against a target (see below). You may opt to allow the player to make relevant Encounter or Daily attacks instead. Similarly you may opt to have the player “consume” an encounter or daily attack power to grant a +2/+5 bonus to the attack roll. Use your best judgement when adjudicating this – if the power would be considered cheating during a competition, its use will disqualify the PC.

-The first round has targets set 70 feet (14 Squares) away from the shooters
-The second round has targets set 150 feet (30 Squares) away from the shooters
-The third round has targets set 195 feet (39 Squares) away from the shooters

The “AC” of each target is equal to a Moderate DC +2 for the player’s level. However, the more accurate the hit, the more points it is worth in the overall challenge:

  • Hitting the target DC: 2 Points
  • DC +2: 4 Points
  • DC +5: 8 Points
  • DC +8: 12 Points
  • DC +10: 16 Points
  • DC 11+ (Bullseye): 22 Points

(NOTE: A roll of a natural 20 is always a bullseye)

Players may opt to wow the crowd by attempting a trick shot. Doing so incurs a -5 penalty to their attack roll, but will earn them a whopping 10 points for style from the NPC judges. Bear in mind that some of the NPC competitors may do likewise. Bear in mind that skills, and non-combat related powers might be applied to a trick shot. Encourage your players to be creative and reward creative (but not game exploitative) thinking!

At the end of the competition, the contestant with the most points is the winner. Runner up prizes may be handed out as per DM discretion.

The Competition
Setting up good opponents will be part of the fun in this encounter – especially if you have groomed your players to well and they opt not to allow their own rivalries to spill over into the contest! Though these NPCs don’t need full stat block, fleshing out two or three characters in brief will make the encounter shine. It is assumed that there are plenty of other contestants in the archery competition (and make sure to point this out – the players are special and should feel as such), but only the PCs and the all-star NPCs have any chance of winning the big prize.

Each opponent should have two qualities: an advantage, and an exploit. This permits you to give the NPCs a chance of winning/losing the competition outside of mere statistics, and allows players who aren’t doing the actual shooting to participate in winning the duel by working behind the scenes. To help you build your NPC rivals; below are (hardly exhaustive) lists of possible advantages and exploits for your players to interact with.

Consider giving the opponents attack roll bonuses equal to or slightly higher than those of the participating PCs.Generally speaking, this and perhaps their Insight bonus are the only stats you will require.


  • Raw Skill: The attack bonus of this NPC is equal to the highest participating PCs ranged basic attack bonus +3
  • Cheater!: The NPC is somehow cheating to win! The cheat can be noticed by a Hard Perception check. During the first shot, use Passive Perception (unless a PC is specifically seeking out foul play) During the second shot the PC (or allied spectators) may make a roll to detect the wrongdoing. The nature of the cheat will effect how it is detected. Some ideas include drugging competitors, replacing regular ammunition with faulty arrows, tampering with the targets, etc. Proof of wrongdoing will get this NPC disqualified.
  • Judge in His Pocket: The NPC has bribed a judge to give him high marks for his relatively easy “trick” shots and to poo-poo the feats of other archers. The PC’s must find this out ahead of time and deal with the judge accordingly.
  • Crowd Favorite: The NPC is a returning champion, and the locals love him. Each round he is cheered for, granting the NPC a +3 bonus on attack rolls. The PC’s must come up with a strategy to sway the crowd away from the champ, or bear the brunt of his advantage. You might opt to make this more severe by having the crowd jeer and boo the champion NPCs opponents, incurring a -2 penalty on their shots unless a Moderate Endurance or Insight check is made.
  • Imposing: Not only is this archer good, but he keeps shooting daggers at you with his eyes…and, might just do that literally too! The PC must make a Hard Insight, Intimidate, Endurance, or Perception check to avoid the glowering of this competitor, or else take a -2 penalty on their attack rolls!


  • Caves Under Pressure: A talented shooter when he isn’t trying to hard, but it’s easy to get in his head. If the PC complete a Complexity 1 Skill Challenge using Bluff, Intimidate, and Insight as primary skills, they will incur a -5 penalty to all the NPC’s shots.
  • Weapon Expert: The NPC is a marvel with a signature bow. He’s so accustomed to its weight and pull that he and the weapon are one. But put any other bow in his hand, and his performance degrades appreciably (-3 attack roll penalty)
  • Cocky: This NPC is so full of himself he knows he will win! Unless…he doesn’t! If the NPC does not make the highest score in a round, he is vulnerable to a Moderate Intimidate or Bluff check to play on his insecurities. If successful, he takes a cumulative -2 penalty for each round he does not make top score in.
  • Cheaters!: The PC’s cheat. The particulars are subject to the kind of cheating the players concoct, and getting caught means disqualification and public shame. Statistically, this will likely require a Complexity 1 Skill Challenge using Bluff, Thievery, and Stealth to accomplish.
  • Fall-guy: This NPC is not known for his honor, but for his greed. He would love to win; but if the PC’s can make losing seem more favorable, he would be happy to take a fall in the competition.
  • Man on the Run: Some of the archery contestants have checkered pasts. This NPC’s just might catch up with him if the PCs have any say in it. If they ask around, it will be revealed that this NPC is wanted by the law, debtors, a rival, or a criminal group. Finding a representative of that group and directing them to their target will remove this archer from the competition entirely.
  • Glutton: Even a fat man can have steady aim…assuming he can draw the bow over his gut! This archer is a voracious eater. If the PC’s can sucker him into overeating, he’ll throw his aim off, incurring a -2 penalty to all his shots.
  • Horny Goat: This young archer hopes to win enough fame to woo any woman he sees. However he is easily distracted by the wiles of lovely and interested women, and that just might keep his eye veering away from the target. If a PC can successfully seduce him (or hire someone else to) the contestant will take a -2 penalty to all attack roles due to his frequent flirtations.

(Apologies for all of the presumed male NPCs here! Pronouns were for convenience only; lady archers are more than welcome to be trounced by your PCs!)

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
As with the Pie Eating Contest, be sure that the reward for the archery competition is properly tempting. Magic items, raw coin, land, and even a chance to have an audience with a noble who has previously snubbed them (the noble will be personally congratulating the winner) are all good possible rewards. Tying the competition into your over-arching plot is also a valuable avenue to explore (Case in point, making it a means to get in touch with a VIP character, or to defeat a rival without resorting to politically caustic open combat).


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Siege on the Oak and Splinters Inn

This encounter is intended for five players of 2nd Level

You may have noticed that in my business and negligence that I skipped a post. Well this weeks encounter is a double-header in order to rectify my ghastly offense: a skill challenge to support a follow-up combat encounter! While it isn’t unusual to see small skill challenges during combat (and indeed, tends to make those scenes memorable and engaging) I decided to try something a bit different here. In addition to having the usual experience reward, this skill challenge has a direct impact on the fight it precedes, providing the PCs with every necessary advantage (terrain control, artillery, extra swords beside them, and the confidence to win) that they can muster. And considering that the enemies come in waves, they’ll need every bit of help they can get.

These encounters are modified from an adventure I wrote for a friend a while back. They took a good bit of converting since his game was in (gasp!) the old AD&D 2nd edition. The plan stayed the same, but out came the THAC0 and in came the Healing Surges. I picked monsters that fit the spirit of the original when a one-to-one trade didn’t work (you yourself are a monster if you think throwing level 2 characters up against a 4th Edition owlbear is fair. And don’t even get me started on that swarm of deadly dire squirrels). In the original adventure, the PCs are investigating a rash of inexplicable animal attacks happening along an important trade road. Animals of all different kinds, including those not typically prone to violence, are attacking travelers unprovoked, and in a coordinated fashion. Local druids have determined that the cause is a corruption at the heart of the forest that has been driving animals, magical beasts, and even the plant life mad. The druids needed help to complete a ritual to cleanse the forest, and that is where the PCs come in.

You needn’t have such a complicated explanation for why your PCs are besieged by an army of normally uncooperative animals. An evil druid might be attempting to rub them out in order to curry favor with one of the party’s recurring villains. Or perhaps some powerful demon has been corrupting the wildlife to amuse itself. The attacks might be part of a plot by an enemy nation to disrupt trade (a similar overarching goal of the villain in the original adventure). Whatever the case may be, make it clear to the players that what they are experiencing is a sign that greater dangers are afoot.

The PCs arrive at the ‘Oak and Splinters Inn’ (so named for the prevalence of the tree, and the prevalence of the barbs that found their way into the original builder’s hands during construction), either coincidentally, or in response to reports of strange animal behavior. When they arrive the inn is sparsely occupied, unusual for an establishment on such a popular trade route. Before they can finish their meals, a man bursts into the inn, raving about an impending attack. He was traveling with a supply wagon to restock the establishment and rushed to arrive when he saw a pack of wolves, bears, stirges, and more, all bearing down on the lonely establishment. The attitude in the inn is one of impending doom and despair. Few of the patrons have any fighting prowess and are resigned to their fate. It is up to the PCs to prepare the building for an impending invasion.

This likely consists of rallying the patrons to fight, boarding up doors and windows, setting up makeshift traps, preparing medical supplies, and perhaps even raiding the bar to make a flaming alcohol grenade! Each check in this skill challenge determines if the PC succeeds in whatever element of the siege they are planning, but it also boosts the overall spirit of those defending the inn (including the other PCs). Success means a bonus going into the fight, failure means a disheartened atmosphere and advantage going to the attacking beasts. Following this skill challenge, the PCs will be battered by waves of animals, crazed for human blood by an unnatural calling. Each wave is progressively more difficult, and the PCs will not always have time for a short rest in between, and thus must conserve their resources wisely.

Plot Text
You can’t help but notice the feeling of unease present in the inn. Conversations are hushed and infrequent. A few inquiries is all it takes to put the pieces together: the quietness of the forest as you were on your way here, that feeling of being watched, the barely perceptible crackle of energy in the air. The animals of the forest have been – cursed or driven mad, bewitched – something. They are attacking travelers with cunning and coordination that is outside the bounds of reasonable behavior. These travelers are worried for their safety.

That’s when the door flings open, and a man hobbles in, bleeding from several wounds – bites and pecks and slashes – he shakes a clump of biting spiders from his shoulder. The innkeep approaches, here eyes wide, “Thom! What happened! Get inside, quickly!”

The young man takes some time to catch his breath, guzzling the strong ale that is brought to him in one quaff. “They’re coming…all…all of them the whole forest has gone mad! The animals are on their way, howling like crazy. I think…I think they’re going to attack us here!”

There’s little that can be gained from questioning poor Thom. The innkeep’s children take him up to a bed to rest and recover. The baying and screeching of animals arrives from outside – distant, but quickly moving in. He’s right. The animals of this forest will be attacking in force.

“We’re doomed.” sighs one of the three traders in the corner of the inn. “Our only chance is to hide somewhere. They’ll catch us and kill us all if we try to run.”

“The basement!” squawks the inkeep. We can lock ourselves into the room we use to store the ale and foodstuffs. The door is sturdy, and they can’t work a lock surely. It might be our only chance.”

You know better. There are enough creatures in this forest that can bust down even a sturdy wooden door, and there’s no chance that cowering in the dark would hide you from the keen nose of a wolf or bear. Hiding isn’t an option for you anyway. Your spells are powerful, your blades are strong.

By tomorrow, you’ll have a lot of new pelts to trade.



This map can be found in the old “City of Peril” map pack, but I’m hooking you up from the results of a Google image search for your convenience. There are thousands of “inn-and-tavern” maps out there but I’m fond of this one, and it works well for the encounter.

Features of the Area
Tables: Tables can provide partial or full cover

Stools and Chairs: Count as rough terrain

Windows: The inn does not have glass in its windows but instead shutters them to keep out the cold. Animals from outside could easily jump in. Moving through a window space requires 2 extra squares of movement

Hearths: There is ample firewood and kindling to light these. Flying animals might use them to enter the inn

Inn Patrons – There are more visitors to the inn than your PCs. Some can be convinced to stand alongside the PCs and hold the building against attack. The remainder take their chances hiding out in the storage room down in the basement, trusting (vainly) to the sturdiness of the door to keep the animal’s fury at bay. Each of the noteworthy patrons are detailed below. Seeing as how they are not accustomed to battle, the patrons all use the same stat block listed below (NOTE: damage values are listed for improvised weapons. Arming a patron will grant them the damage die of that weapon):

Kipra and Durgot: A distraught young halfling woman and a grizzled old dwarf in a wide brimmed leather hat, these two describe themselves as “miners.” Kipra is beside herself at the notion of being torn apart by wild animals, weeping uncontrollably – but Durgot is calm enough to converse with the PCs. He explains that the two were panning for gold along a nearby river, when an owlbear chased them away from their camp, all the way to the inn.
-Kipra +2 Bluff -Durgot +2 Diplomacy or Intimidate -An additional +5 on attempts if one of the two has already agreed to help the PCs

Winter: This white haired, wild eyed, half-elf druid is the only person in the inn managing some measure of calm. Winter despises cities and is a wanted outlaw, but cannot help but admit a fondness for this rather unobtrusive inn. All the same, she’s a survivor, and hopes to use her powers to simply flee when the attack begins.
-Intimidate -5, Bluff -2, Nature +2. If the PCs convince winter to help she forgoes her attack to instead use an at-will spell to channel her energies into a single creature, stunning it until the start of her next turn. She otherwise has the same stats as all NPCs in this encounter. (It may seem that Winter would not approve of killing animals, but once she sees the extent of the beast’s untreatable corruption she will heavy heartedly agree that putting he beasts down is a valid course of action.)

Solomon, Harker, and Wolter: Three traders from a neighboring nation, these men lost their small caravan and the guards they hired a few nights back. Now they can’t decide on the best course of action for survival. Wolter needs his confidence bolstered, while Solomon and Harker need to be convinced of the PC’s trustworthiness before they will lend their sword arms against whatever comes in. Solomon is a slight man with nervous eyes, and is easily cowed.
-Wolter +2 Bluff -Solomon +2 Intimidate -Harker +2 Diplomacy -An additional +5 on attempts if one of the men has already agreed to help the PCs

Miss Potts, Daisy Potts, and Thom Potts: The innkeeper and her children are still waiting for a husband who has been missing for almost a week now. Miss Potts has done a good job of holding down the fort, as it were, but animals and beasts keep creeping closer to the Inn. A firm or friendly word will get the Potts’ cooperation, but they are hardly fighting material. During the combat encounter they hide in the storage chamber of the basement, locking themselves in.
– If the PCs are kind to her, Miss Potts will send her children to assist with one task before heading below. +2 on the next Athletics, Arcana, or Thievery roll


Skill Challenge: Preparing the Inn

Complexity – Successes before 3 Failures – All checks are Moderate difficulty unless otherwise stated

Easy 8 Moderate 12 Hard 18

Goal: Prepare the Inn as best you can for the impending attack. Direct benefits for the successful application of each skill are detailed below, but as always, if your players have some other use for the skill, encourage it and extrapolate a result using the below suggestions as a guideline. The players should be thinking in terms of a reasonable plan of action, not staring down at their skill list
Suggested Primary Skills: Athletics, Arcana, Dungeoneering, Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate, Nature, Stealth, Thievery

  • Athletics / Dungeoneering – Hammering boards over a door or window will deny the beasts an entry point. Boarded up portals are treated as having 50 HP and are hit automatically.
  • Arcana – Using your knowledge of basic alchemy, you can mix together a combination of alcohol and some of the unguents the inn keeper has stashed away to make a potent explosive: Improvised Explosive •Weapon •Fire Power (Consumable) DEX, + 1 accuracy bonus – range 4 close burst 1, 1d8 + 4 fire damage. Each use of the skill creates 2 such grenades.
  • Diplomacy / Bluff / Intimidate – These skills are used to convince the inn’s patrons to make their stand alongside the PCs, instead of cowering in the basement and hoping the beasts pass by. Each patron will respond more favorably to one approach or another, as detailed in their descriptions (see “Features of the Area” below). A successful check means the PC has convinced the patron to take up arms, and they will participate in the combat encounter. Though not especially brave, they will obey the PCs commands and trusting their judgement (within reason). Stats for the patrons are given below.
  • Nature – Though these creatures are under the influence of dark magic, their fighting behavior will remain the same. Each successes also means that the PC has time to attend to one of the following precautions: •Lighting fires in each hearth to prevent flying creatures from entering •Covering any holes or niches in the basement to deter rats from creeping in •Patching weakened floorboards to confound burrowing creatures •A success at this skill may also grant a +2 on stealth checks by this or another PC (See also the NPC Inn patron, Winter)
  • Stealth – The PC scouts out the horde’s approach, and discovers that the beasts are not approaching from every side of the inn. Randomly select a cardinal direction on the map. When the combat encounter begins, no creatures will ever enter from that side (but might move around to it.) The PC knows this. A failure indicates the PC was caught and chased, his hurried return to the inn will only add to the feeling of desperation.
  • Thievery – A successful roll allows the PC to concoct a trap using the spare bits of wood and metal housed in the Inn’s basement or stables. This trap is largely left up to the imagination of the player. This will require a lot of adjudication on your part but be fair, and stick to the spirit of the player’s intentions. If the player wants to cover the floor in broken glass to serve as caltrops to slow his opponents down, then the trap will likely inflict little damage but add the “Slowed” condition. Traps attack with a +4 vs Defense and deal an appropriate amount of damage, and likely cause a condition.

Suggested Secondary Skills: Insight, Perception

  • Insight – Reading the reactions of the patrons at the inn, the PC can determine how best to persuade them. Use one check for each NPC. A successful check reveals which social skill the NPC is most susceptible to; a failure imposes a -2 penalty on social rolls attempted for that NPC. Successes and Failures do not count toward the overall completion of the skill challenge.
  • Perception – The PC keeps a close eye on the efforts to shore up the inn’s defenses, pointing out flaws, gathering needed supplies and spotting weaknesses in the building’s construction that were not readily apparent. Make one roll for a particular PC. A success grants that PC a +2 on the next Athletics, Arcana, or Thievery roll. A failure imposes a -2. Successes and Failures do not count toward the overall completion of the skill challenge.

Success! The PCs have bolstered the spirits of the inn’s patrons…as well as their own. Until such a time as a character becomes bloodied, the PCs and all their allies have combat advantage.

Failure! Despite their best efforts to prepare the inn’s defenses and embolden her patrons, the efforts were too little, too late, and took too long to prepare. The hopelessness in the air is infectious and the dark powers afflicting the attacking animals permit them to sense this fear, driving them to frenzy. Each animal has combat advantage on its first attack.

Combat Encounter: An Unnatural Siege
The cursed animals that attack the inn are being driven from near and far, and come in waves. The creatures in each wave are described below. Pick a random side of the map for each group of creatures to enter from. Though this encounter includes suggestions for how many rounds into combat each group should arrive, use your judgement. if the PCs are having too easy or hard of a time, adjust accordingly.

Monster tactics are as stated in their stat blocks. However some creatures might have a unique means of sneaking into the inn and past the PCs more obvious defenses (this will be noted next to their entry).

Taking Rests
The idea behind this encounter is for it to be a grueling experience. That said, certain parties will handle this kind of battle better than others. You may wish to adjust when the players can take a short rest.

Ideally, they will have time for a short rest right after the second wave.

Wave 1 – Begins immediately
x3 Bloodhawks (Monster Manual 2 pg. 142) -Enter through any open windows on the second floor

x4 Stirges (Monster Vault pg. 259) -Enter through the chimneys

X1 Scurrying Rat Swarm (Monster Vault pg. 299) -Enter though the drain (grating) in the basement

Wave 2 – Begins 4 rounds into combat
x1 Spitting Drake (Monster Vault pg. 83) -Approaches from a randomly chosen cardinal direction. It uses its projectile attacks to melt barricades first, moving on to attack PCs second

x5 Wolves (Monster Vault pg. 304) -Approaches from a randomly chosen cardinal direction. The wolves either leap through windows, attack unbarricaded doors, or wait for the spitting drake to clear a path

x 2 Badger [Use stats for the Dire Rat from Monster Vault pg. 298 with the following modifications: •Replace the climb spree with Burrow Speed 4. •Ignore the filth fever capability. The Badger instead gains the ability to deal + 1d6 damage while bloodied) -Burrow up through the floorboards on the first floor

Wave 3 – Begins after a short rest
x3 Bears (Monster Vault pg. 296) -Each approaches from a different randomly determined cardinal direction

Possible rewards and EXP
In addition to the standard experience for both the skill challenge and combat encounter, consider awarding an additional 100 EXP to the group for the difficulty of the siege given the player’s inability to gain a short rest between waves. Any Inn patrons that are rescued might serve as contacts, or may even give the players rewards for saving their lives.



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The Dukes Ball Part 2 – Hot Date

A little while back I wrote up a skill challenge for navigating a social function full of intrigue and espionage. While thinking about some of the details involved in attending a social function, it dawned on me how odd it must be for the PCs to “go stag” to a dance.

It was around the same time that I was reading a review for Crusader Kings 2 and was fascinated with the mechanic of using an NPC the character has a relationship with (in this case the character’s spouse) as a source for additional stat increases or other practical game impact – a kind of “BFF item slot” if you will (Calm down. I know the idea treating a character, – especially a wife or husband – as nothing more than a stat buff is kind of repulsive at first blush, but it fits with feudalistic notions of the purpose of marriage – as a means of gaining wealth, land, or other resources and solidifying alliances).

So I wanted to extend this idea as an optional bit the the “Duke’s Ball” skill challenge. PCs will have the option to bring a date who has some stake in the events of the ball…but lacks an invitation. Your choice of date confers some sort of benefit, as they bring their own talents to the pool of accomplishing the surreptitious assignment taking place under the noses of the guests. As an NPC their area of expertise is limited, but valuable. The trade off, is that the player will need to agree to help these characters accomplish a task of their own while at the ball.

One (or the group) of PCs is approached by one of the following potential “dates” (the NPC could be a simple guest as well, no need to force a romantic complication into the mix unless your players are looking for that) with a request to be their “+1.” The dates are straightforward with their goals, explaining why they absolutely must get into this party, and what they can offer in return.

Going Dutch
If the PC tries to weasel out of his arrangement with the date, they will find themselves with egg on their face. Have the Date warn the PC when the players have progressed to the point where they are 1 success away from being halfway through the challenge, or after they have accrued their 2nd failure. If the PC doesn’t use their next action to complete the date’s task (or if the PC fails to complete the task) the Date will leave, causing a scene as they do. This social embarrassment incurs a -2 to that PC’s next action. Should the party complete the skill challenge before the player gets a chance to complete his or her dates goal, continue the encounter until they have had a chance to make good on their offer (the players cannot fail the challenge after accruing the necessary successes, however).


The Scholar20120824-092356.jpg

The academic elite will be in force at the Duke’s ball – the wise and haughty rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful. T scholar is looking to be taken on as an apprentice, or enter into a top level academy, and the ball poses a great opportunity to sidestep all of the usual networking and impress one of the bigwigs directly. It’s not that the scholar doesn’t have the chops to keep up – on the contrary, he’s fairly brilliant. But he lacks the connections. And that’s

where you come in…

Quest: Succeed at a Hard Diplomacy or Bluff skill check to convince the academics to take The Scholar on as an apprentice.

  • Scholar’s Benefit: The PC gains a +5 to two of the following skills during the entirety of the “Duke’s Ball” skill challenge – Arcana, Nature, History, Religion





The Harlot

Coin and influence mean having the ability andopportunity to fulfill your every desire, and among the rich and powerful you will always find a fair share of rakes, philanderers, faithless spouses, and those who seek exotic pleasures. So when a lady-of-the-night approaches a PC and requests his or her help in embarrassing a former client who is attending the party, this will likely come as no surprise. Resentful of the titles like “slovenly trull,” or “cheap trollop,” but completely happy with “expensive doxy,” or “wanton wench,” (or whatever other title you can randomly roll for) the Harlot…er…doxy is pleasant and pleading, trying to sway the PCs sympathy over how she was so badly treated by her wealthy patron.

Task: the PC must find a means to embarrass the Harlot’s old patron. Not just mildly. The whole party needs to be laughing at him. At the same time, the Harlot isn’t cruel and doesn’t want any unwarranted physical harm to come to him (he treated her poorly, but never resorted to any physical abuse, and nor will she). If it comes down to a duel, however, the harlot doesn’t mind seeing the spoiled fop take a few good licks.

  • Harlot’s Benefit: A master of distraction, the Harlot can negate a failure on the player’s part by causing a scene that distracts the entire party from whatever faux pas was just caused. Unfortunetly, this diversion only works once – after disrupting the party, the Harlot will be escorted out, likely giggling (and if she is dressed immodestly, jiggling) all the way out of the mansion. NOTE: The player can only make use of the Harlot’s benefit after they have accomplished the Harlot’s task

    20120824-092415.jpgThe Pariah Not everyone of the city’s upper crust has been invited to the Duke’s ball. One nobleman has been left on the fringes of high society, and wasn’t invited to the social function of the season. The dejected nobleman is acquainted with nearly everyone at the party – he knows their quirks, their desires, and a handful of their secrets. But none of that matters if he isn’t at the party, not staying up to date on the latest gossip. He’s interested in more than just getting into the party – he wants back in the good graces of his friends. To do that he’ll need to impress them.

    Task: The Pariah wants back into the good graces of the social elite. There are any number of ways to do this: provide him with a surprising gift to present to the Duke, besting a worthy foe in a (potentially faked) duel, appearing with a stunning and noteworthy date (Hard Diplomacy check) , rescuing a guest from some source of harm or embarrassment (again, possibly a convincing set-up) or any number of options. Let your players stretch their creativity, and have the nobleman filter their ideas to see which have the best chance of success.

    • Pariah’s Benefit: Having the inside track on most of the guests will give the PC who has taken the Pariah as their date an upper hand. For any social (Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate) roll, shift the difficulty from Hard to Moderate, or from Moderate to Easy.

Plenty More Fish in the Sea
If these potential NPCs don’t suit your campaign or your players, use them as a guideline for developing your own. Perhaps an existing NPC that the players already have a relationship with would better fit the role of a potential date. Make the Tasks quick and easy (one skill roll only, if any at all) and give a good, solid, tangible benefit to the skill challenge for investing that action in the date’s agenda.


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Incidents – Dwarven S&R


A friend of mine and I were discussing his campaign when he noted a lack of “things” for his players to do around town or while traveling on the road. Now sure, there are no dearth of random encounter tables of all shapes and sorts and sizes…but what kind of gamer would I be if I didn’t eschew all those years of painstaking writing and playtesting to jot out my own ideas? Unsolicited I started weaving together a list of “incidents” for his players to run into while en route to bigger and better things.

Don’t get me wrong, I like 4th Edition D&D a great deal. But I sometimes feel that the organized and structured streamlined sexiness of the system leaves out a lot of the excitement of not knowing that is part of why tabletop games are so great. Random tables don’t exist so DMs have an excuse to throw unreasonable challenges at their players – they exist to add a little mystery and suspense to the game. And after all, D&D is in part about exploration, which is all about mystery and suspense. Combat encounters and Skill Challenges are great ways to keep scenes moving smoothly and resolving them in a satisfying way – but sometimes their rigid structure doesn’t account for all the possibilities, or doesn’t encourage the players to really stretch their problem solving muscles. This is primarily where I wanted the “Incidents” to head. Somewhere between a full on encounter and a simple plot hook was where they would dwell.

Well I’ve been sitting on a few pages of them and I got antsy. Not to mention the fact that I feel a tad guilty leaving you all hanging for so long while I penned a fairly rudimentary (if complete!) adventure last month – So I decided to start posting these Incidents halfway through the week as a regular segment, to tide you over till the usual full encounter.

They are a little sparse, and will rarely have much in the way of game stats (making them useful for other editions and other games) but will hopefully give you some inspiration to get your characters involved in the game world beyond “I hit the monster with a sword, then History the crap out of this talking statue.”

Dwarven S&R

The PCs are traveling overland, and near a river.

The players hear loud shouts from upstream. The noise is coming from two dwarf scouts, calling out desperately to their friend. The trio was panning for gold when their partner fell from an escarpment and banged his head, leaving the dwarf unconscious as he is washed down river. The dwarves are shedding burdens and hustling after their companion, but time is short, and the PCs are much closer to the wounded gold hunter.

Possible Resolutions
Though the emphasis should be on problem solving and how to safely remove an injured person from a raging river with the tools available, this situation could also call for a short skill challenge. Given the dire circumstances, you may elect to allow only one failure, or raise all DCs to hard. Regardless, a challenge of Complexity 1 or 2 would be all you need. Suggested skills are:

  • Athletics
  • Acrobatics
  • Endurance
  • Heal
  • Nature

Leader classes should also be allowed to use their minor action heal power or other “healing” keyword capabilities to contribute somehow.

Possible Rewards and Experience
The dwarves are grateful for anyone who could save their friend, though a failed attempt, no matter how valiant, might be met with their distraught admonishment.

Grateful dwarves would solemnly part with some of the gold they found, or perhaps even some gems that came up while searching for minerals. Since they have been camping in the area for a while, they likely know rumors about the region. If your campaign has any major organizations who might employ dwarven scouts, this rescue could be used to curry favor with the group.

This Incident should be worth EXP equivalent to a single monster of the player’s level.



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Intrigue at The Duke’s Ball


Yes, you will stand out if you choose to wear your full-platemail

Between a request from my artist, and Several – Recent – Resources that I have seen floating around – I’ve had the idea of an encounter at a high-brow social event on the brain.

Now as you know, I love skill challenges a lot. And as I’ve also pointed out, they give me a lot of consternation. It’s always hard determining when to draw the line between using a normal, structured skill challenge; and just plain running the game, rolling for skills as the need sees fit. In general when deciding I use the following criteria:

Skill Challenge: For a scene in which time passes in long chunks (hours or days) and the minutiae of the action would be rather boring but still poses a threat or challenge tot he player (such as overland travel, researching, or building/disassembling some contraption). Any event that should require more than a simple skill roll (climbing a mountain, negotiating a hostage exchange). Scenes in which completion of the goal is not at direct discretion of the players (You walk out the other end of the magical hedge maze when you reach the end, you survive the squall when the weather shifts).

Unstructured Action: Any scene where the fine details matter, and are subject to moment-to-moment circumstances (Breaking out of a prison, crossing a border checkpoint, helping the militia investigate a crime scene). Scenes that have a discrete goal that the players choose to achieve and can be done so tangibly (stealing the gem by breaking into the vault and disabling the spells guarding it, rescuing the informant from the stockade by getting in, busting down the lock, gathering his effects, and leaving).

The problem I see with leaning on Skill Challenges for the later kind of scene is that sometimes the players accomplish the task before the desired complexity of the skill challenge permits. The players may have described a perfectly viable way of accomplishing your 8-successes-required skill challenge with just 4 die rolls. You obviously don’t want to punish them for their good thinking and high rolls, and though the obvious answer is to challenge them by throwing unexpected kinks into the plan – sometimes the plan is just too solid. The best choice would be to cut the challenge early, or give the player’s two successes for a single roll and chalk it up as a reward to their clever planning, but this might feel a little hollow.

Skill challenge structure is there to help you make a scene challenging so that it is rewarding to the players. If that structure gets in the way of that goal, then it isn’t helpful. The system should be there to make things that are boring yet dangerous exciting, and to let the player think in the long term rather than in the space of the several second rounds they are used to.

I suppose that was more of a discussion than a decision, hunh? All in all I’d argue this: use skill challenges where they feel right, and cut them short or extend them if they need to be. If your players want to plan in depth, ditch the skill challenge and just run the scene in that way any table-top game lacking a skill challenge system would, and grant a major or minor quest worth of experience for the doing.

That said, I can tell you the best Skill Challenge I ever ran was a heist in a brothel, and involved a very complicated and elaborate multi-role con to accomplish that just happened to line up with the number of successes I set out for the complexity. It was a great session and a delightful encounter with tension, drama, and ultimately a lot of gratification for all parties. The Skill Challenge is a powerful and valuable tool but takes some getting used to, some insight, and often a bit of luck to pull off right.

Though I might be inclined to describe and encounter at a Duke’s mansion as a scene of its own; I wanted to try framing it as a skill challenge to see how effectively a very free-form scene could benefit from the system’s structure and tangible rewards. Consider this both an experiment and an encounter ready to be dropped right into your campaign.

The Duke’s Ball
One of my first experiences with a handful of dice was during a West End Games D6 Star Wars session in which myself and fellow rebel scum crashed a party held by a prominent citizen and imperial sympathizer. It was a fun session that really helped capture my love of games that really left the options in the player’s hands. There were several optional and potentially random vignettes that occurred during the course of the festivities and reacting to them was a lot of fun (And wouldn’t you know, my smuggler’s cross-species womanizing ended up getting us a friend in a high enough place to help our ship escape after the inevitable blowing of our disguises). It was a formative encounter in my early gaming career.

But enough about my stupid character and my thoughts on game design and DMing! On to the encounter!

Set Up
The players are on a mission that will involve attending a party held by a noble, rich merchant, or prominent citizen. The specifics are up to you and will change the circumstances accordingly (are they attending a ball at a castle or a birthday celebration held in the city center’s plaza?) but the tone and main action of this encounter will be the same.

I wanted this skill challenge to be malleable to the needs of your campaign, so I’m approaching it as a backbone for an encounter design, fleshing in bits of my specific example encounter will be underlined after the colon ( : that kind, not the fleshy one).

Success and Failure at the Ball
Regardless of the overriding goal of the social event you use in your campaign, the point of failure should be that the players do not achieve their goal (obviously) and quite likely, will be kicked out of the event! The player characters are in almost all circumstances misfits. Even the PC of noble birth has left home to be an adventurer, delving into musty dungeons, getting spattered in the blood of supernatural creatures, and socializing with suspicious characters that most high society members would rather forget existed. Even a grateful patron might woefully turn out his or her bold adventurer friends if they upset too many of the sensitive party guests. Consider using expulsion from the event as the consequence of getting 3 Failures, and permit the players to “patch up” their faux pas to cancel out previous Failures. A system for this is detailed in the example encounter below.

Like all skill challenges, you are working towards a total number of successes, but in this challenge, (more so than most others) it is critical that each successful roll be more than just a tick-mark off the success chart – but that it leave the players with an actual, tangible clue as to where to go next, or a direct benefit for their actions. These should be specific to the kind of skill used (and will be detailed for the example in the skill list):

  • Establish a goal for the player to work towards while at the event: Exposing an enemy agent using the party as cover to sneak in to the Duke’s home and spy on him
  • Pick a complexity for the skill challenge. Keep it relatively high (Complexity 3 or higher), as this should be a lengthy and important scene. Don’t worry too much about the normal rules for adding advantages to long challenges – the clues you assign as rewards of successful skill rolls will fill this role: Complexity 4 – Requiring 10 Successes
  • The event should have sub-locations in which the PCs can ply a variety of skills and must stay alert for various events to transpire. Someone will need to be in the kitchens to see a potboy poisoning the baronesses brandy, or to interfere with a one-sided duel someone must be in the courtyard where it takes place. You may not need an actual map per se, (A Venn diagram will likely suffice) just make it clear that the party has different geographical areas where the tone of events shifts. This will keep things interesting, opens up a wider array of skills besides just the three expected Charisma options, and allows your players to split up to cover more ground while not really splitting the group: Much of the Duke’s manse is open to guests – the dinning hall, lobby, kitchens, and courtyard. The staterooms are off limits and under guard, but who knows who or what might be lurking up there.
  • You will probably want to list the major players and their goals. This encounter is doable without well
    fleshed out personalities but you’d really be missing out on part of the fun and a great opportunity to anchor this encounter to the plot of your game.
    Assign an ally and a foil (at least one of each) to each of the important characters who will be attending. This is a loose guideline – some NPCs might not have any allies present, or might have a more complex mixture of relationships but in general it’s good to have at least two relationship branches so that the player character’s behavior has some unexpected ramifications. Bear in mind that regarding someone as an ally or enemy may not be a two-way street; some characters get more benefit out of an alliance than others, and likewise, enmity can be one sided. This kind of atypical relationship can keep players on their toes, so consider employing it to some extent.
    NPCs may not need full stat blocks, but having a their Insight bonus (and any other skill relevant to their personal goals) handy will be a big help: The Duke, A visiting eladrin general, a fat halfling river trade tycoon, and the high priest of the temple of Bahamut (more on them below).
  • Make a table (possibly random!) of events or vignettes that can occur at the party (keying them to locations as necessary) that your players may want to react to. These also might be moments are challenges directly targeted at them. These vignettes will probably not determine successes/failures towards the skill challenge, but will instead provide bonuses, open up new uses for skills, provide information, or have further implications on the campaign (the earning of a new ally or a discount with a shopkeeper perhaps). Be flexible, and don’t rely solely on the dice to determine success. Great ideas may require no die roll at all to be considered a success: (See the random vignettes table below)
  • Compile a skill list. Get together the skills you would anticipate your players using, and make some assumption about how those could be applied to the skill challenge. This will help you accommodate players who would much rather tell you what their character does, and worry about the numbers afterwards. Don’t forget, in this kind of challenge it is very valuable to assign clues or the “unlocking” of previously “useless” skills as a reward for success: Flushing out a spy means keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior, questioning possible witnesses, looking for surreptitious missives, listening for clues in the cacophony of small talk, and trying not to spook the target before you discover their identity! How to break that down skill wise? (Consider the following to be the “Primary Skills” of this challenge – Nearly all Secondary Skills will account for any skill rolled during a vignette and will be specified by the particular Vignette). It is also worth noting these clues presume the characters can and do take time to “compare notes” and share their insights:

    • -Insight (Moderate): Observe “red flags” in your conversations with guests — Clue:Allows the player to know where the next vignette will take place (if you are using random vignettes, roll for it now)

      Perception (Moderate): Watch for anyone behaving oddly or trying to slip out of the designated guest areas — Clue:Narrows down your suspects, granting a cumulative +1 to all Primary Skill rolls-Perception (Hard): Listen to overhear a suspect conversation — Clue:Details of some impending scandal, grant a +2 bonus to the next use of any Secondary Skill

      Diplomacy or Bluff (Moderate): Talking with guests to see if anyone has helpful information — Clue:The player gains some insight into the conflicting identities here at the party: reveal a randomly selected “enemy” and “ally” for two of the major figures at the party. If you are not using major figures, grant a cumulative +1 to the next Secondary Skill roll

      Arcana, Religion, Nature, History, Streetwise or Dungeoneering (Hard): Hob knob with learned scholars, pious monks, servants, notorious explorers or some other kind of guest whose profession entails one of these “knowledge” skills as their primary area of expertise. They might share what they know if you can impress them with your “shop talk” and prove you are “one of them.” — Clue:You have some discretion in this matter, but any of the clue bonuses listed under the other skills (and perhaps one chosen at random!) would apply-Stealth (Easy – requires 2 prior successes): Tail someone acting odd — Clue: Narrows down your suspects, granting a cumulative +1 to all Primary Skill rolls

      Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate (Hard – Used as a Secondary Skill): The player attempts to smooth over previous faux pas, calm frayed nerves, and apologizes or insult and awkwardness. Used in this way, these skills will remove a Failure off the Skill Challenge’s total, but a failed roll will add a failure as normal. A bribe or gift along with the smoothing over of words (Choose a price appropriate to your campaign level, though as a loose guideline 50gp Heroic, 100gp Paragon, 500gp Epic) will grant a +4 bonus to the roll

Party Personalities
The important NPCs at the party are the major players and primary (though inform the PCs they are not the only) suspects in the encounter. They could be questioned directly, but not knowing where their allegiances lie can be a cause for potential failures being added to the Skill Challenges track. Certainly sharing suspicions with an ally of your villain should count as a Failure. Otherwise use the major NPCs to add color and an added layer of difficulty to the encounter:

    • The Duke: Dark of hair and square of jaw, the duke is a skilled warrior, and competent ruler, even if he lacks a rapport with or deep empathy for his people. Though rough around the edges and not one for nonsense, the Duke is generally fair, or at least level headed enough to know when not to put his boot down too hard. Few love him, but neither can they point to any significant failing with his regime. Insight Encounter Level +5

Ally: General El’Vath – The duke has invited her here in the hopes of solidifying an alliance with one of her noble patrons. They both fought alongside one another many years prior and the Duke has a strong respect for her
Enemy: Griff Bolswaithe – The duke does not appreciate the sycophantic antics of the slimy halfling, and deals with him only out of necessity.

    • General Danaria El’Vath: You wouldn’t know she was a general unless someone told you. This short, blonde haired eladrin woman wears an elaborate dress, somehow enchanted to depict moving patterns of flowing water across its surface. She talks warmly and laughs easily, devoid of the haughtiness you might expect from a high-ranking officer in a venerable high-elven military. That said her reputation for cunning on the battlefield is well spoken of and she has a talent for the longsword. The general is cautious of those who ask too many questions. Insight Encounter Level +7

Ally: Griff Bolswaithe – Though a soldier at heart as the Duke is, The General has not lost her sense of mirth and humor, and is amused with Griff’s antics. She is here to have a good time, not to talk brutality and business, and Griff’s attitude is much more in line with her image of what this party should be than her host.
Enemy: Sister Roxanne – The General has considered herself to have an almost supernatural sense for judging the character of a person (this is not actually true, she’s simply perceptive). Something in the Sister’s demeanor seems forced and inconsistent to her. Not to mention that the Sister seems so out of place and doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself at all. The General gives her a wide berth.

    • Griff “Burfoot” Bolswaithe: Loud, boisterous, greedy, gluttonous, bawdy, and incredibly friendly, this halfling merchant got rich beyond his wildest dreams by being crafty and charming; and knowing when to turn a blind eye. He will do everything in his power to befriend the PCs (and any other strangers at the ball) and while genuine in his welcome, he is always looking for a scheme or angle to turn a few gold. Griff might take a PC “under his wing” and show them “how we relax here in civilization!” Insight Encounter Level +4

Ally: Sister Roxanne – The sister has generously offered to purchase her local mission’s supplies through Griff’s trade company exclusively. And any friend of Griff’s coin-purse is a friend of his personage. Besides, the challenge of cracking a grin or guffaw out of the serious clenched jaw is just too tempting.
Enemy: The Duke – The ill-will between the flamboyant merchant and steely noble has been ongoing, and despite his normal bravado towards his opponents, Griff has grown tired of the Duke’s hostile attitude and wastes no opportunity to mock or embarrass his host. (Some actions may allow players to learn the enemy or ally of a major NPC, but seeing as how this relationship is secret and pivotal to the plot, it can not be revealed in this way).

  • Sister Roxanne The Steelhearted: This silver haired tiefling woman is a ranking priest with the local temple. Though there are shrines to various gods, it was originally constructed by the devout of Bahamut, and the priests and priestesses who keep it are sworn to the exclusive service of the Platinum Dragon. The sister wears a simple grey robe, but has chosen this occasion to wear some rather fine jewelry and has painstakingly sculpted her shimmering hair about her head and horns. Though she is often invited to attend social functions she behaves a bit nervously, stating that she doesn’t wish to make a fool of herself. In truth, she is secretly a spy for a cult that worships Tiamat, and is here to steal missives that the Duke received from various military acquaintances. These letters contain warnings about the Sister’s true masters, and plans and requests for aid in moving against them. She wants to get hold of these papers at ll costs. Insight Encounter Level +3

Ally: Griff Bolswaithe – The sister regards the overly talkative halfling as a wealth of information, and a potential catspaw in her nefarious scheme.
Enemy: The Duke – The sister is the enemy agent sent to spy on the Duke. Her contempt for him will occasionally slip out of her carefully crafted facade of piousness.

Random Vignette Table
Track the skill challenge in turns as per normal for combat. For each round, roll randomly for 2 events to occur. When a PC’s turn comes up, if they are in the location in which the event takes place, describe what’s happening and allow that PC and any others in the location to use their turn to address the vignette (don’t tell them the mechanical benefits it provides but be clear about the implied consequences). PCs may miss certain events, in which case they transpire negatively, though that won’t always effect the PC’s die rolls or situation. Some vignettes have special rules or circumstances. Some grant bonuses, and others are open to interpretation. Read them carefully.

Roll 1d12

  1. Lobby or Dining Hall – “I think I’m going to be sick!” A drunk patron expectorates all over another guest – a very unhappy acolyte of the mage’s guild. They begin to argue. This could get bad. Resolving the situation and maintaining the party’s stability will grant the party a +2 on all checks during their next turn, and a +4 on Arcana rolls for the duration of the Skill Challenge. If the PC’s side with the angry mage they will gain a +4 to Arcana rolls from then on, but a -2 to any other skill checks during the next turn. Failure will make the PC look foolish, and word travels fast at the ball, incurring a -2 penalty to all social skill checks for the party during the next turn.
  2. Lobby or Courtyard – “Care to dance, darling?” A rather unattractive lesser dignitary asks for a dance (or three) from one of the PC’s. Through roleplaying or a sufficient Bluff or Diplomacy check to maintain their dignity (in spite of jests and cruelties flung by younger ball patrons) while dancing with their unfortunate looking partner. Charmed, the noble chats excessively with you, letting slip one of the major NPC’s allies/enemies. Failure or a refusal will be seen as unkind at best, and will make the PC a laughing stock among the more merciless patrons for even being asked by the poxy-faced creature.  Word travels fast at the ball, incurring a -2 penalty to all social skill checks for the party during the next turn.
  3. Kitchens – Griff Bolswaithe, the halfling merchant is doing his bets to convince the head chef to start purchasing a few new vintages from his trade company. The cook is clearly irritated, having a lot on his hands and very little patience. Intervening on behalf of Griff will earn his favor. Helping the head chef will earn the PC’s some favor with their patron the Duke. The exact benefits of this interaction are up to you – though the least Griff can offer is a few sample bottles of this wine he swears by.
  4. Courtyard – An argument has erupted between two patrons – well known rivals in the city. It has finally escalated to the point of a duel; and it’s quite clear that one of the nobleman is far more competent in arms than the other. A PC might intervene to champion the more inept noble. Make an opposed attack roll (using the bonus for the PC’s melee basic) vs. Encounter Level + 5. If the PC fails the roll, they take 1d10+ Level damage and lose a healing surge, but may continue to attack again or yield. Two successful attacks will force the opponent to give up (Resolve these immediately and describe them in great detail to avoid this sequence becoming merely a boring trade of die rolls). If the PC succeeds (or finds another means of resolving the conflict) the party gains a +2 to Diplomacy checks during the next turn, and the Intimidate skill may now be used in the same manner as Diplomacy and Bluff. Failure will also make the PC look foolish, and word travels fast at the ball, incurring a -2 penalty to all social skill checks for the party during the next turn.
  5. Courtyard – Some of the Duke’s grizzled militiamen are deep in their cups and discussing old battles and tactics. Earning their respect through roleplaying or a proficient History check will earn the PCs an alert from one of the militiamen on duty. When they need only two more successes to complete the challenge, a militiamen will report to the PCs that he heard about Sister Roxanne being permitted into the staterooms – suspicious indeed. Failure will make the PC look foolish, and word travels fast at the ball, incurring a -2 penalty to all social skill checks for the party during the next turn.
  6. Kitchens – One of the maids is trying to dissuade a man in a uniform similar to the militia’s from entering through the kitchen’s rear entrance. He claims to be on business for the Duke and is delivering an urgent parcel. The maid is unsure what to do. This man is an accomplice to the enemy agent, dropping off a bundle of lock picks to speed Sister Roxanne on her way. If the PCs see through his ruse and question him, all he knows is that he is dropping the package off in the courtyard for a woman. (Note: If you have rolled Vignette 12, this vignette cannot occur – roll again)
  7. Dining Hall – A few of the officers in the militia and some of the rowdier nobles have started an impromptu game of cards at one of the big trestle tables pulled aside to accommodate the dancing. PCs are invited to try their hand at the game of chance, but the starting wagers are steep. Using a Bluff or Insight check to play, and a Thievery check to cheat, a PC risks 100gp for the chance to win 200gp. If they fail the Thievery roll to cheat, the angry gamblers will keep that PC from entering the Dining Hall for the remainder of the night, and will incur a -2 penalty to all social skill checks for the PCs during their next turn. If the PC suspects other players of cheating, make a Perception roll. Success catches one of the soldiers scamming the game, and grants the PC a +2 on a roll to play the game properly. The roll represents several hands, so only one roll can be attempted.
  8. Dining Hall – It happens at every party; there is always that crying drunk woman or man sulking in the corner. Comforting this patron will earn the PC the hapless (and talkative, and drunk) noble’s adoration. He or she talks them up for the rest of the party. The PC gains a +2 to all Bluff checks for the remainder of the Skill Challenge.
  9. Lobby – A drunk and surly nobleman is making disparaging remarks about Elves overall, and the visiting Eladrin General in particular. He claims that she is a traitor and turncloak. The PC’s might consider this to be valuable information but the man is simply an angry racist, spewing his bile to anyone who will listen. And Insight check will reveal his statements as inspired by bigotry and his assertions without proof.
  10. Lobby – A few members of the temple are discussing piety and politics with the nobility. A grinning young acolyte approaches you and begins badgering you for a donation – right in front of a swarm of expectant nobles, already half looking down their noses at you. Talking their way out, or offering a donation will earn the PCs some favor (+1 to all social skill checks made during the next turn for every 50 gp donated. Any donation grants a +4 on Religion checks, an additional +2 for every additional 50 gp). Simply refusing to donate without a sufficient explanation will earn the PCs some sour looks and a bad reputation; a -2 to social skill checks during the next turn.
  11. Staterooms – A militiaman quietly enters the very room where a PC might be hiding, dragging in a giggling and quite married noblewoman; his breeches already half unfastened. The pair will accidentally reveal the PC’s hiding place. Both parties have dirt on one another – the adulterer can reveal the PC as a trespasser, but would not like it if the noblewoman’s husband found out about their affair. The PCs word to keep mum isn’t enough for the paranoid paramours. Bluff, Intimidate, Diplomacy, roleplaying, or even a simple bribe could potentially alleviate this standoff.
  12. Courtyard – There is a pile of dirt from one of the potted plants tossed carelessly on the ground. If the PCs investigate and succeed at a Perception check, they will spot Sister Roxanne walking briskly away from a potted plant. If confronted she responds very negatively and will eventually summon the militia and make a scene. If the Duke is informed, he will ask the PCs to keep a close eye on her. The PC’s gain a +4 to all attempts to root out the spy for the remainder of the Skill Challenge.

Round-by-Round at the Ball
As is often the case, organize this Skill Challenge similarly to a combat by allowing each player one action per round (the order mattering very little in most cases, making an actual initiative roll unnecessary). Like usual, each player describes what they are doing, and you assign an appropriate skill to roll (refer to the Primary Skills listed above for the most likely circumstances but stay flexible).

For each round, roll randomly for 2 Random Vignettes (on the table above) to occur – re-rolling if an event has transpired twice. When a PC’s turn comes up, if they are in the location in which the event takes place, describe what’s happening and allow that PC and any others in the location (they can skip ahead to their turn if need be, strict initiative isn’t necessary) to use their turn to address the vignette. Some vignettes have consequences for sole PCs, others for the party. If one member of the group has separated to infiltrate the mansion or is disguised as a helper, they do not suffer penalties levied against the party, as the patrons of the ball don’t associate them with the Duke’s “pet adventurers.”

The overall plot is thus: An agent will sneak in through the kitchens to deliver a set of lockpicks, hiding them in a potted plant in the courtyard. The spy, Sister Roxanne, will excuse herself to pick up the package. A bit later, she convinces a militiaman to allow her access to the staterooms to seek out one of the Duke’s more comfortable and unoccupied privies as she is feeling ill. Instead, she sneaks through the darkened hallways to the Duke’s study, picks the lock, and enters. There she will steal documents and a few treasures, perhaps even a magic item of some value. She locks the door back, leaves, and returns to the party without rousing suspicion – unless the PCs succeed at the challenge, and follow the clues to her either during or after the ball.

The ramifications for catching the spy are at your discretion (and indeed, the objective at the party in your game may be quite different).

Unlike some skill challenges, there is a lot going on here, so seriously consider granting up to double experience for succeeding at this encounter. In addition to raw experience points, the Duke might happily award the PCs a magic item for their service, and certainly a substantial amount of coin. This success could lead to further adventures either on the Duke’s behalf, or that of a patron impressed with the PC’s ability to handle a subtle and difficult task.


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