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Tag Archives: Nobility

Prisoners of the Seatower of Balduran

This encounter is intended for any number of players of any level using the  Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition ruleset

Most gaming groups who run last year’s nostalgia inducing Murder in Baldur’s Gate will pick a faction and support their side throughout the adventure’s many and various short quests.

Of course, my group decides to get themselves thrown in prison as a ruse to earn the confidence of the crime faction in order to serve as a vice squad for the authorities. This is why it is hard to write RPG modules – how are you supposed to anticipate this madness?!

The result, ultimately, is that I accrued a few short encounters that you can throw into any prison scenario – whether you are in Baldur’s Gate or elsewhere in the multiverse. It’s not a full on encounter, but a string of “incidents” that can be used to spice up your game.

•An older prisoner is coughing and sputtering, but who isn’t in this damp and dreary place? A DC 15 Medicine check reveals that this prisoner has caught “the damp” and will die within a few days if not treated. Convincing the guards that he isn’t just faking the illness requires a DC 10 Persuasion check (with Advantage, if some medical jargon is applied to the entreaty). Once the prisoner is well and back in his cell, he will be grateful and reward the heroes in some way (handing them a spare shiv, warning of some impending plot against them, or cutting them in on a prison break, etc.)

•An upper level of the prison is home to the more affluent incarcerated. A nobleman named Rexus Bormul has become the defacto “lord” of the cellblock. Technically speaking he could walk right out of here (either legally or illegally) but prefers the immense power he has over the prison to the relative power he has outside it. From his poshly appointed cell he entertains guests and chats jovially with the guards and wardens, bribing them so thoroughly that they may as well be his henchmen. 

    Rexus calls the PCs up to his spacious cell block for wine, food and entertainment. After attempting to woo them, he requests their assistance in some matter – perhaps delivering a letter once they make it “outside,” breaking up an escape attempt, murdering a fellow inmate, or simply spying for him. It is up to you whether Rexus is a genuine ally, a scheming villain, a friend of an enemy, or an enemy of an enemy.

•A scrawny halfling inmate palms a valuable or contraband possession from one of his fellow convicts – one who has been threatening the tiny criminal. The thief plants this personal treasure on one of the PCs, hoping that in the ensuing scuffle, the party will be able to solve this problem for him.

•One select nights, a corrupt warden holds prisoner brawls in the late evening. He allows guards, and maybe even inmates to net on one another in bare-knuckle brawls (fought until unconscious). This is highly illegal, and no doubt he PCs will be pulled into the matches. They may be asked to take a fall in a fight, may curry favor with their keepers by winning fights and earning a particular guard a lot of money, or they might try and rat out the whole operation to the day warden.

     Perhaps the fights even take on a more sinister turn as knives, or even desperate wild dogs are pulled in off the streets to fight inmates for “entertainment.”

•A hero with a particularly valuable skill (a bard who performs, a crafter, a learned sage, etc.) is taken from the general population cell to a private chamber where a warden, or ranking guard asks their help in a special project. This might confer the party some boon, earn the ire of their fellow convicts, offer a chance for escape, or even present an opportunity for an advantageous romance.

•An odd, squirrelly inmate reveals that he was a mage the whole time, hiding his abilities for months (or even years!) in order to facilitate a riot or prison escape plan. The PCs might learn this ahead of time with an Arcana DC 15 check by finding impromptu spell notes carved amongst the hash marks that litter the wet stone walls.

•Being below sea level, this section of the prison has a small pond in the ruined part of the tower. Escape would be impossible through the sturdy iron grate, but small fish do manage to swim in and out. Inmates are welcome to try and catch their own meals by hand (eaten raw, or cooked by sympathetic guards), or this paltry place to while away the hours might be the scene of a struggle as one convict attempts to drown another. Or perhaps impromptu lock-picks can be crafted out of the bones of some unlucky fish?

•That dead rat has been there in the corner for weeks, and the guards refuse to remove it! In truth, the very slowly decaying corpse is serving as a dead-drop for the passing of notes; perhaps between prisoners, guards, or someone on the outside. Tiny notes are rolled up and slid into the varmint’s rotting maw. 

Map

       

Features of the Area

1. Stairs up

2. Guard Station

3. Storage

4. Double locked entry portcullis

5. West general population cell block (Barred walls and locked doors, includes simple cots and sewage holes for bodily waste) DEX DC 15 to Lockpick

6. East general population cell block (Barred walls and locked doors, includes simple cots and sewage holes for bodily waste) DEX DC 15 to Lockpick

7. Mess hall

8. Kitchen (Locked, guards only. Only dull knives present)

9. Underground pond (entry to the lake barred by an iron grille)

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Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Incidents, Playtested

 

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Adventure Site – Dhunraven, City on the Wildlands

As you know, I use this blog as a repository for my old, forgotten, unused, untested, or well loved DMing materials. I always thought it was a shame that most DMs let all their hard work vanish into obscurity – so I decided to share my notes publically.

On a whim, I figured I would compile the map and notes I had left over for a previous 4th ed. game I was running with friends who have long since moved to various corners of the world. An easy addition tot he blog – I’ll just compile and reformat some notes, touch up the grammar, add a few stat blocks and that will be that.

Oh, and I’ll provide stats for those using the D&D Next playtest too.

And, you know, a few more NPCs while I’m at it.

Turns out it became a major project that I just couldn’t relent on until it was in decent shape. Maybe a waste of time, maybe some good exercise in writing adventure sites. Maybe I’ll come back to it. Hopefully you’ll get some use out of it! The document covers Dhunraven as an adventure site (think of it as a mini campaign setting that can be slotted into a much larger overall game).

Dhunraven is inspired by one of my oft mentioned favorite low-level generic D&D adventures: The Dead of Winter. Since it was locked away on the Character Builder disc that came with the ORIGINAL 3rd edition PHB it isn’t easy to come by, but I just might have a little link to help you out, in case you are interested in the source material.

File Download —> Castle Dhunraven – City on the Wildlands

 
 

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D&D Next “Funnel” Fan Adventure – The Traitor’s Feast

If I’ve been quiet lately, it’s because I’ve had another full adventure in the works! Too many projects at once has prevented me from working on the “One Page Dungeon” contest this year – which is a real shame. Instead, I’ve been plugging away, slowly and surely, on a new full adventure for those conducting the D&D Next Playtest.

Ostensibly this was also a full write-up for the first session of a new Realm Management campaign I’m planning to start up in the summer. The idea here is that the players run a dreaded “funnel adventure” to see which of their pretenders to the throne will survive. These characters will then be launched into all the intrigue and hex counting that is “Test of the Warlords.

In a funnel, each player takes the role of several very low level (in this case, level 0!) characters with minimal resources and advantages. They use their wits, luck, and the guy standing in front of them, to survive a dungeon adventure full of more traps, hazards and tricks than actual combat. Though this adventure branches away from that archetype a bit (it takes place in a noble’s palace rather than some unexplored tomb – the players are young lordlings rather than commoners with delusions of grandeur) the intention is the same.

The goal of most funnel adventures is to serve as character-creation trial by fire. May the best man win, and move on to earn her or his status as a level 1 character. Rather than picking what you want to play, you roll up several ideas, and see what survives.

This adventure includes guidelines on how to make Level 0 characters for the D&D Playtest (Including an extensive list of “professions” held by the nobility which I am quite proud of). Part of the adventure is intended for integration with Wizard’s of the Coast’s Dungeon Tiles as well as Dwarven Forge’s Room and Passage, and Rooms sets of 3D terrain. I do love my toys.

You can download “The Traitor’s Feast” (Don’t read the title to the players! Spoiler!) here, or over on the “Full Adventures” page:

 

                The Traitor’s Feast_ – D&D Next  <—–Download HERE

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Not Playtested

 

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Incidents – Archery Competition

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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.

Advantages

  • 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!

Exploits

  • 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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Passage of Arms

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Who knew that the code of chivalry also included permission to be kind of a dick

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

I’m no medieval scholar (though I know a handful of them!) but I admit it’s always nice to inject one’s D&D game with some of the actual quirks and wrinkles from our real world age(s) of swords and chainmail. One thing that caught my attention while doing some research on tourneys was the Pas d’armes. It’s not the sort of thing you usually find cropping up in your campaign and it certainly provides for an unexpected and potentially exciting encounter!

Setup
At the gates of a city or in the middle of a bridge on a well travelled road stand (# of PCs) knights in full armor, their tunics bright and their shields recently polished. These men have established a Pas d’armes. They challenge any armed and able-looking traveller to a duel. If the knights are defeated by any challengers, they will agree to give up their game and go home. Each challenger they defeat, however, is allowed to pass – though he leaves behind his pride.

Under the normal rules of honor; if the challenged warrior should decline, the knights would claim his spurs and shame him as he passes. These knights, however, have chosen a more aggressive tact. Stating that anyone who turns them down is a coward, and seeing as how armed cowards tend to get themselves in trouble, the knights will “preserve the conscientious objections” of the passerby by relieving him of his weapons – which they will then keep to either use, sell, or outfit their pages and squires. They are particularly interested in acquiring any magical or well crafted weapons this way.

Because this is a duel of a sort, the knights impart a few rules upon the PCs. The sparring is to be one on one, and non-lethal blows are expected. Anyone engaged in the fight must accept the request to yield, and those that do yield admit defeat and quit the field. If the PCs violate the rules of decorum, such as making attacks that hit multiple targets, making opportunity attacks (considered poor sport here) or ganging up on an opponent the knights will get quite irate. They will switch targets, all of them focusing on the offending PC to bring him down first, defending their own violation of the rules with shouts of “Honor demands it!”

Though competitive and forceful, the knights are not without honor. They don’t attempt to kill any of the PCs, instead knocking unconscious any PC who drops to 0 HP. Should the PCs opt to kill any of the knights, this restraint, and any rules of decorum are dropped as the sparring becomes an all out skirmish.

For all their bravado the knights are hard losers, and will only keep to the gentlemanly standards of the duel while they are winning. When bloodied, any of the knights will begin ganging up on the single strongest melee PC. At that point, the fracas becomes an all out melee – albeit still a civil and ideally non-lethal one. For all their talk of following the rules of one-on-one combat the knights are eager to give this up.

In defeat however, the knights retain their gracious attitude, and politely congratulate the PCs before leaving and allowing the challengers to pass.

Page 186 of the Player’s Handbook governs the use of the Intimidate skill during combat to convince bloodied opponents to surrender. While nominally errata or ignored by some DMs, this rule makes a lot of sense for given the encounter’s curicumstances. Point this out to your players as it may keep the goals of the fight fresh and prevent it from dragging on.

Talking Your Way Out
D&D is all about options, of course. Though the knights who have set up this Pas d’armes are hot-blooded and itching for a fight; they are still governed by their other goals: behaving like proper nobles, getting richer, wowing the crowds, and impressing potential courtship partners. Drawing on this knowledge, the players could just as easily avoid the confrontation by convincing the knights this is not the fight to pick. If your players wish to avoid the confrontation, they’ll need to pass a skill challenge to do so.

Skill Challenge

Goal: Convince the knights of the Pas d’armes to let you pas over the bridge/through the gates unhindered.
Complexity: 4 Successes before 3 Failures

Primary Skills:
Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate (all Moderate)

Secondary Skills:
History (Hard): Citing times when emergencies have permitted knights to forgo challenges without losing face might convince the eager champions to let the PC’s pass…seeing as how it won’t besmirch their honor. This use of the skill can only earn 1 success.

Arcana (Hard or Easy): Can be used in place of Intimidate to warn the knights of the consequences of dealing with such a powerful foe. If the knights have no training or little familiarity with magic, this becomes an Easy DC. This use of the skill can only earn 1 success.

Insight (Moderate): Studying the knight’s personalities grants an advantage in the negotiation, providing a +2 bonus for the next Diplomacy, Bluff, or Intimidate roll. A failure incurs a -2 to the same rolls.

Perception (Hard): Pointing out flaws in the knight’s weapons, armor, and position might make them disinclined to fight. This use of the skill can only earn 1 success.

Athletics (Moderate): An open demonstration of strength and prowess might make the knights reconsider picking this fight. This use of the skill can only earn 1 success.

Map
I’m leaving this one up to you, Gm. I’m sure you have plenty of city gate or bridge or tunnel or town square locations in your stock of map tiles and poster maps. And if you do not, well, there’s always the battlemat! This encounter doesn’t depend much on terrain and is instead a straight up fight, so map choice is not critical (though knocking an opponent off a bridge would render that combatant “defeated” in the duel, if this condition comes up in your game). Your goal in this case is immersion of character in the world and depth of the situation, not providing a tactical obstacle course.

Monsters
To represent the knights, choose a Natural Humanoid Soldier of the player’s level. Look over the creature’s stat block to make certain that it makes sense for this encounter – simpler creatures are better. Since this fight is intended to be a series of one-on-one matches (at first) consider the following modifications to whatever monster you use to represent the knights:

Change the ‘Marked’ condition to the ‘Hard Pressed’ condition: this one-off status effect imposes a -2 on attacks employing Encounter or Daily powers (thus the Essential’s Fighter’s “Power Strike” would fall under this category, even though it is activated after making a melee basic attack).

Typed Damage: Unless you want the knights to be arcanely talented or paladins of an order, change any damage of an elemental type to normal damage (representative of shield bashes, thrown elbows, kicks, etc.)

Some good options include:
-Dwarf Clan Guard (Monster Vault pg. 101)
-Knight of the Eye (Dungeon Magazine Issue 171, Pg. 93)
-Warforged Soldier [Ignoring Battlefield Tactics while still fighting honorably] (Monster Manual pg. 261)
-Warforged captain [See above] (Monster Manual pg. 261)
-Eladrin Fey Knight (Monster Vault pg. 114)
-Human Duelist (Monster Vault pg. 173)

 
 

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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.

Setup
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).

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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

 

 

 

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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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Intrigue at The Duke’s Ball

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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:
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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).
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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).

Rewards
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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